From the WUSTL Newsroom…
Researchers have found how sensory nerve cells work together to transmit itch signals from the skin to the spinal cord, where neurons then carry those signals to the brain. Their discovery may help scientists find more effective ways to make itching stop.
The researchers, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, report the new findings online July 19 in the journal Science Signaling.
“By interfering with the activity of sensory neurons, we may be able to inhibit multiple types of itching,” said principal investigator Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Itch. “It appears there is cross-talk between pathways called calcium channels in sensory nerve cells that process the itch signal.”
The researchers studied calcium channels in neurons, which allow for the transport of calcium ions from one nerve cell to another, helping the cells transmit itch signals from the skin to other cells in the spinal cord.
Chen’s team focused on the dorsal root ganglion of laboratory mice, a structure near the spinal cord that is full of sensory nerve cells. It processes signals from the skin and transmits them to neurons in the spinal cord.
The researchers looked at on how neurons in the dorsal root ganglion process and transmit two types of itch signals. One signal, called histamine-induced itching, is caused by bug bites, for example, and responds to antihistamine drugs, such as Benadryl.
The other type of itching, called called chloroquine-induced itching, often is experienced by malaria patients who take the drug chloroquine to control their symptoms.
Scientists had thought that histamine signals traveled through one type of calcium channel, while chloroquine signals traveled through a different channel.
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